This piece by Jeff Roby was originally published @ http://lifeinspice.com/
The left implodes. Great hopes were stirred by the Bernie Sanders campaign. It was alleged to be a movement that would continue beyond the primaries, beyond November, promising a Political Revolution that would transform American politics.
It ended badly. It ended in the arms of Hillary Clinton, in the swarms of the millions whose sole raison d’etre was to overturn the Trump presidency. That ended badly. It ended in the anti-Russia hysteria that fuels the neocon drive for the American New World Order, from Syria to North Korea to Venezuela and all points North, South, East and West. This will end badly.
Sanders refugees fled the Dems and joined the Green Party. But that influx was too much of a shock to the Green system of lethargy for the party’s Old Guard to bear. Some of these new socialists were anathema to the small-business environmentalist Old Guard. These new socialists were former Democrats who, having grown up in the ready-made environment of a Democratic Party campaign, knew little about having to build their own party from the ground up. Cast into the current turmoil, they had a lot to learn, and learn fast. Too many didn’t.
There are also veteran Green socialists with a class perspective, and a commitment to grassroots organization of the black and Latino communities. As party veterans such as Bruce Dixon (White Liberal Guilt, Black Opportunism and the Green Party), Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese (Green Party Growing Pains; Our Own Crisis of Democracy) can attest, they are under assault by the conservative white Old Guard who use newly-coined token black leaders as a front for keeping the party on the path of business-as-usual, setting black against black.
The Green Party is descending into polemical mayhem with charges of racist, infiltrator and Democratic Party sellout flying thick and fast. The left has forgotten the art of serious political discourse, as the name-calling tactics of the playground prevail.
Yet if only the rest of the left would display such youthful energy. Most of the left forms the heart if not the soul of the legions of anti-Trump, former-Hillary Clinton minions who would catapult neocon Vice President Mike Pence into the Oval Office. They are led, but are incapable of leading in any radical direction. They cling to their respective identities. They all claim to support each other’s agendas, when at best they cancel each other out. Their theoretical landscape is utterly bleak. As individuals they are often decent, serious people, experts at exposing and excoriating a collapsing system, but not so good at changing it. As a total institution, they have become less than the sum of their parts. Their prescription is Same Old Shit, and more of it. Still …
Jim Crow is now a liberal.
St. Petersburg, Florida holds the headquarters of the Uhuru movement. The “Sunshine City” is the epitome of a liberal, Democratic Party controlled city that actively upholds a White Power, Jim Crow social system.
Its school system, run by Pinellas County, is rated the worst in the United States. Its school system has explicitly re-introduced segregation, and its black schools are the worst of the worst, commonly known as “failure factories.” Special programs are set up for white students to be bussed to, while black students are not even given a minimum education. Police patrol the halls, black students are suspended for even speaking out, Defiance/insubordination is the most frequent cause of suspension, and students are routinely arrested for “disorderly conduct.” The school-to-prison pipeline starts here.
Years ago the Pinellas County sheriff’s office was banned from the city, but those days are long gone. The department under Sheriff Bob Gualtieri now considers St. Petersburg — and its schools — its happy hunting ground, and the Tampa Bay Times howls about teenage car thieves being the number one menace to society as mere children are killed by police with impunity.
The downtown gentrification juggernaut seeks to make the city “homeless-free.” The Tampa Bay skyline is obscured by burgeoning high-rises and corporate headquarters that the city’s already failing infrastructure can’t possibly accommodate. Entire city blocks are being bought up by out-of-state billionaires. The shops lining Central Avenue are marked for either total renovation — with stratospheric rent hikes — or utter destruction. Had the path of the recent Hurricane Irma not veered just a few miles east as it clawed its way up the spine of the Sunshine State, impoverished south St. Petersburg would now be uninhabitable.
Out of the Blue …Eritha Akile Cainion (Akilé Anai) campaigns with Jesse Nevel.
Last Spring, We were holding a meeting of the Pinellas County Green Party. On the agenda were the Uhuru candidates Jesse Nevel and Eritha Akilé Cainion (now Akilé Anai), running for St. Petersburg Mayor and District 6 City Council, respectively. I had a lot of assumptions about the Uhurus (“Uhuru” is Swahili for “freedom”). Their platform looked good, but they had a certain reputation:
Black Nationalist and therefore macho, sexist and homophobic;
Pro-Reparations, a petit-bourgeois fancy based on exploiting white guilt.
They sent us about a dozen members of their multi-racial “A team”: the candidates themselves, plus Omali Yeshitela, Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party, and other heavies in the campaign. Surprise #1, Jesse Nevel, their mayoral candidate was white and Jewish. Interesting. Nevel and Akilé spoke. They laid out a vision of Reparations that was completely different from my previous understanding. It went beyond payback for the slave trade.
It focused on more recent attacks on St. Petersburg’s own black community. Two major points stood out:
- The city had bulldozed over 800 black families and 100 black-owned businesses from the land south of Central Avenue in order to build Tropicana Field (the “Dome”) as a home for the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, and
- The city had recently dumped one billion gallons of raw sewage onto the South Side black community, and into Tampa Bay, leaving untreated feces covering the streets and floating in people’s homes. The city had saved a few million dollars by closing the Alfred Whitted waste treatment plant.
Frankly, Reparations makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and not just on the public policy front. Even on the left, it challenges the notion that white people can make their own peaceful version of revolution, and do it at their own (actually the Democratic Party’s) pace, rather than follow angry black leadership which insists that it must lead NOW! We whites especially don’t like to see our own role as part of an actual white nation (Europe writ large) founded on colonial plunder and massacre and slavery, a white nation still kept running based on that foundation laid centuries ago (see Part 2 for more on this).
Take back the Dome!
The Uhurus were demanding Reparations for those two atrocities, among others. But Reparations is a sticking point for many — where would the money come from? Were all white people supposed to write checks? And then give them where? To spend on what?
The battle cry.
No, say Jesse and Akilé. Checks are fine, but “Nobody benefits at the expense of anyone else! War against the Corporations! War against the System! Radical Times call for Radical Solutions!”
“Nobody benefits at the expense of anyone else!” was what set my head spinning. Theirs was indeed a multi-racial appeal. They presented solid, powerful demands for radical reforms, neither wild nor whimsical. Their nationalism was rooted in the political struggle against the colonial system, nothing like the “dashiki cultural nationalism” that was once fashionable.
We were also told we needed to commit “national suicide” by directly joining with the struggle for Reparations and smashing colonialism, i.e., the specific form that capitalism has always taken to this day.
(I had an intriguing misunderstanding later when I started to write about this. I thought we had been told we needed to commit “racial suicide,” not “national suicide.” Why that mistake? Easy to answer once asked directly. We in America are organized to see things in terms of race. We are heavily over-determined by the framework of racist ideology, whether we are pro-black or white supremacist, radical or conservative. But Uhuru does not see the fight against racism as central. Racism is understood as the primary ideology that the ruling class uses to maintain its power among the masses, ideology being the stuff in our heads. But the real issue is power. Uhuru insists that the struggle is not to destroy the stuff that’s in our heads, but to destroy the colonial system that is now, more blatantly than ever, kept in power through the barrel of a gun. That is of course a greater challenge, even dangerous in these dangerous times. It calls for action, not mental self-purification. But it is also liberating, as mental self-purification is impossible, but action is not. Or that’s how I took it.)
Just as powerful was their personal presence. Their delegation was multi-racial, clearly a close-knit team. There was a sense of real human warmth. They really wanted the Green Party’s support, without an aura of guilt-tripping or coercion. They were clearly competent and professional, things the Green Party has in short supply. They seemed to have a strong gay and lesbian presence. They wanted us.
Over the course of that evening, my assumptions were demolished line by line.
So what were we to do? I proposed that we endorse them on the spot. We did so unanimously.
Omali Yeshitela (at mike), Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party. Out of the blue.
Their whole operation seemed to me like it had come out of nowhere. But I’ve studied revolutions and revolutionary movements, and one of their frequent features is that — to the eyes of governments and politicians and scholars — they do seem to “come out of nowhere,” just like the Uhurus. But a closer study of past revolutions has consistently shown that these movements never come out of nowhere. They build for years, organizing, fighting, building a base. Only to the official eye had they been invisible until, for the rulers, it was too late.
… and Into the Black
The Uhurus had announced that they were holding one of their weekly rallies that coming Sunday, at Uhuru House, their headquarters on 18th Avenue South. Rose and I went, and everything we had just seen was reaffirmed.
So I realized I needed to take a hard look at my own blindness, my own assumptions. How had I not seen? The meeting and the rally had cleared up a lot of stuff very quickly. But even that doesn’t fully explain it. Nor does my own racism. The left also has particular political stereotypes just as much as do Academia, the Beltway and Fox News. What were my political assumptions as a 3rd International Marxist, influenced by Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, and by Vygotsky?
I had a lot of learning to do here.
Obvious first step — read their material. For starters:
Much of the following is taken from the above two documents, plus their newspaper Burning Spear, numerous conversations, and talks by and with Chairman Omali Yeshitela himself. Most importantly, Rose and I have been active participants with the Uhurus in action, rocking last summer’s official debates and tackling the media that maligned them and tried to shut them out. I’m no pushover for a smooth-talking party line, but as a long-time Marxist the reading was most challenging.
First some history.
Omali Yeshitela emerged as a leader in the midst of the Civil Rights and Black Power struggles of the 60’s. Moved by Martin Luther King AND Malcolm X, he was involved with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC had outraged the liberal left in 1966 when it asked its white members to leave, rebelling against the patronizing control that white liberals had exercised over the Civil Rights movement. Yeshitela had been in Los Angeles during the Watts uprising of 1965.
In 1966, he stormed into the St. Petersburg City Hall, tore down a painting that depicted black people as servants and savages, and marched with it down the street. Arrested and charged, Yeshitela ultimately spent two-and-a-half years in prison, but that fiery act made him a hero to the community.
Yeshitela was one of the “survivors” of the destruction of the revolutionary movement of the 60’s, the assassination of leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and the massacre of so many Black Panther Party leaders and members by the police. Yeshitela chose to follow in the footsteps of the Black Panthers:
“The Black Panther Party was the only revolutionary political party of consequence prior to the emergence of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) and it bore the brunt of much of the counterinsurgent repression, leaving its remnants in a state of retreat. Most other remaining African political groupings preferred to shun designation as a party and avoided the internal dynamics necessary to shape and define the class character of a revolutionary organization. This resulted in ambiguity that most often allowed militant, nationalist petty bourgeois organizations to hide their class content behind radical sounding names. However, we were clear that we had to have a revolutionary party rooted in the African working class and committed to African liberation, unification and socialism.”
Predecessors to the APSP were JOMO (the Junta of Militant Organizations), the Burning Spear newspaper, and the Uhuru movement. The APSP was founded in 1972. A central thesis of the APSP, which they maintain to this day, is that …
“ultimately the struggle against racism, when it is given material form, boils down to a struggle for ‘equality’ with the exploited North American working class, that is to say equality within capitalism … [The APSP’s] primary struggle is against colonialism, which is an imperialist form, therefore necessarily having class connotations.”
Holding that the primary struggle is against colonialism, they insist that the African working class is the essential driving force.
As African internationalists, they worked closely with the Zimbabwe African National Union, which went on to govern in Zimbabwe. In the 1970’s, the APSP achieved national prominence by leading the widely celebrated (and ultimately successful) struggle to free Dessie Woods, an African woman associated with the Nation of Islam, who had killed a white man with his own gun after the man tried to rape her and a friend at gunpoint.
Throughout the following decades, the APSP established itself as an independent force in sharp contrast with the “establishments” of the white colonial power structure, the “official” black leadership, and the petit-bourgeois left. Per Yeshitela:
“We recognized that Reparations had to become the property of the masses if it was to be a significant political question. On November 13 and 14, 1982 we held the historic first session of the World Tribunal on Reparations for African People in the U.S. in Brooklyn, New York. The Tribunal found that the U.S. owed African people in the U.S. $4.1 trillion for stolen labor alone, the first empirical quantification of the value of capitalized African labor.
“Immediately after the conclusion of this historical event we launched the African National Reparations Organization (ANRO), whose sole objective was to win the Reparations demand in the consciousness of African people. Following the Reparations tribunal I toured Europe with the Reparations message, going first to London and Ireland, and then to France and Germany, meeting with hundreds of Africans in different settings.”
By 1976, amidst all the Bicentennial hoopla, the party had developed significant support among North Americans (aka white people), and this relationship was consolidated in St. Petersburg, Florida with the launching of the African People’s Solidarity Committee (APSC), which worked directly under the leadership of the APSP for Reparations and against colonial oppression. This required protracted struggle to overturn the patronizing black/white paradigm of “of equal, parallel struggles, where solidarity work meant whites doing their ‘own thing’ to free white women or white homosexuals or white workers while Africans would kinda sorta handle the Africa question.”
Then in 1991, APSP organized the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM), their revolutionary mass organization, to expand their struggle more deeply into the black community.
St. Petersburg 1996
As reported in Yeshitela’s Political Report to the 6th Congress of the APSP:
St. Petersburg 1996.
On October 24, 1996 in broad daylight, the St. Petersburg, Florida police department shot dead an 18-year-old African, TyRon Lewis, in front of scores of witnesses in the African community.
“That police murder, which took place three blocks from the Uhuru House, the National Office of the APSP, resulted in a fierce response from the African community. Police cars and corporate news vehicles were torched by the rebelling masses. Liquor stores and other white-owned businesses notorious for their unfair extraction of capital from an impoverished community were also targeted.”
The Uhurus were on the scene. The police and media seized on that to blame them for the uprising, and began harassing them at every turn, arresting them for selling Burning Spear on the street and for passing out leaflets and pamphlets. On November 13, 1996, three weeks after the murder, about 100 community members, some with children, met at an InPDUM meeting at Uhuru House headquarters to protest the coming Grand Jury’s total exoneration of the killer cops. In response, the state and city mobilized hundreds of cops and paramilitary forces who surrounded the building.
Armored and armed to the teeth, this police army declared the gathering illegal and bombarded the community members trapped inside with literally every tear gas canister in the city, shooting incendiary canisters onto the roof in an attempt to set the building on fire.
The African community exploded, battling the police in defense of the building and the entrapped leaders. A police helicopter hovered overhead, reminiscent of the massacre of the MOVE organization in Philadelphia in 1985. The copter was brought down by a bullet hitting its pilot. The battle continued until dawn.
Bill Clinton sent a cabinet member to investigate and the city announced a massive program, called “Challenge 2001,” to dole out $100 million in federal grants and “build better community relationships.” The city appointed its first black police chief, Goliath Davis, who made sweeping changes in department policy. Yeshitela summarizes:
“In the process of this resistance the Party initiated a broad-based African American Leadership Coalition involving sectors of the African primitive petty bourgeoisie whose unity with our Party was influenced by their belief in the prospect of acquiring federal funds to appease the resistance.
“This was an important development because the coalition became a wall of petty bourgeois, national democratic, black ‘respectability’ surrounding our Party and movement that made it difficult for the State to effectively employ a military solution against us with impunity.
“The coalition also became a part of the method through which the Party locked the colonial State in political struggle. Through the coalition we defined this struggle as a contest between a pessimistic public policy of police containment of our people versus an optimistic public policy of economic development for a population suffering economic quarantine by the government and capitalist financial institutions.”
Yeshitela and the Uhurus became a real force in city politics. Yeshitela ran for mayor in 2001 in a field of nine candidates. Though he didn’t make the runoff, he won all but one black and mixed-race precinct in the city’s primary. But …
“Situations of dual power are never permanent. They are fleeting and temporary. We were not able to win all power to the people and consequently the State has been able to reassert its general authority over our colonized community with a vengeance.”
Still, the APSP never stopped building, and they are now at the center of a growing constellation of organizations and community institutions. Under the leadership of the APSP are the following:
- Uhuru Houses in St. Petersburg (their international headquarters), Oakland, and St. Louis (just opened this year), where they hold a variety of functions from assembly halls to kitchens.
- International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM), the party’s African mass-based community organization.
- African People’s Solidarity Committee (APSC), an organization of North American (white) supporters working directly under the APSP’s leadership.
- Uhuru Solidarity Movement (USM), a broader white organization working in support of the APSP.
- African Socialist International (ASI), active in in Europe, Canada, the U.S., Colombia, the Bahamas and West Africa.
- Burning Spear, the movement’s newspaper since 1968.
- Black Power 96.3 FM radio station.
- Black Star Industries (BSI), a business entity to collectivize the economic activity of the Party, named for Marcus Garvey’s steamship line of the early 20th century.
- All-African People’s Development and Empowerment Project (AAPDEP), initiators and participants in community development plans and projects in West Africa.
- Black is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations, to facilitate the electoral work, now sponsoring a march in Washington, DC this November.
- African People’s Education and Defense Fund (APEDF), which runs a community gym in St. Petersburg and furniture stores in California and Pennsylvania.
- Communities United for Reparations and Economic Development (CURED), founded this year to consolidate the Jesse/Akilé campaign and continue fighting for its platform.
This is the “Out of Nowhere” that has landed the Uhurus center-stage in St. Petersburg today.
Uhuru Takes the Stage — the theory.
Most organizations don’t bother much in the way of theory. Just do what everybody else is doing, and keep doing more of it. (That’s why the left is doing so well!) But there is a much higher standard for revolutionary organizations. And there is a much higher price for failure. Revolution requires taking what is, then visualizing what must be, and navigating past the bleached bones of one’s forbears along an all too treacherous path. More must be said about Uhuru’s revolutionary theory.
For starters, they call it the African People’s SOCIALIST Party. But their socialism is not the socialism of Bernie Sanders, that rehash of a welfare state that is coming apart at the seams. The APSP’s socialism requires that the poor and working people, particularly the African working class, directly seize power. More specifically, it calls for the African Nation seizing that power through a national liberation struggle. But obvious questions arise, given that they are located primarily in the United States.
I mean, I look back at the recent campaign of Jesse Nevel for Mayor and Akilé Cainion (now Akilé Anai) for City Council District 6, and I see practically a leftist’s dream. With the forces at their disposal, they did everything right, and they did it in the middle of Florida in the middle of the USA. The robot in Lost in Space cries, “This does not compute, Will Robinson!”
I “grew up” Marxist, at least since 1967, back when it still meant something. Class, I was taught, is fundamental. In every struggle, one must always take account of the class question, examine the class content of every institution, every idea, every issue. The Marxism of the U.S. Left of today is a horrible parody of Marxism as it was practiced by Marx and his progeny who actually made revolutions. Mangled by the left, its ghostly dead shadow still looms over all.
“We are not Marxists,” says Chairman Omali Yeshitela. Yet when reading his work, it sure sounds Marxist to me — the real thing. Still, it is something different.
Yeshitela counterposes that there is one vast “colonizing nation” called Europe, made up of what we traditionally call those European countries on the East side of the Atlantic Ocean, PLUS North America. Then there is Europe’s gravedigger, Africa, found anywhere in the world where there are Africans. But in rough terms, it would be “traditional” Africa PLUS those of African descent in the United States and Central and South America. Africa lives where those of African descent fight to so define themselves.
Here in the “belly of the beast,” as revolutionaries put it in the 60’s, Class and Nation seem to be competing concepts. But the fundamental feature of the U.S. working class is that it has been hopelessly corrupted (imbued with “false consciousness,” the “aristocracy of labor” and all that). Thus its champions on the Left have also been so corrupted. So too has their concept of Class. What do I mean by that?
“We have been naught, we shall be all!”
From Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach:
“The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism — that of Feuerbach included — is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively.”
And at the conclusion of the German Ideology:
“The proletariat can thus only exist world-historically, just as communism, its activity, can only have a “world-historical” existence. World-historical existence of individuals means existence of individuals which is directly linked up with world history.
“Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”
In plain English, the working class is an activity, not a thing.
Marx states that the working class exists in two different modes, as the “class in-itself” and as the “class for-itself.” The class in-itself fights the reactive struggle for better wages and conditions, the terms of which are defined by capitalism itself. The working class is a “thing.” Workers are commodities who sell their own labor in the marketplace.
The class for-itself, on the other hand, is an active player on the stage of history, a conscious actor, creating itself in the struggle. “We have been naught, we shall be all!”
We can also use this approach to understand the African nation. In the general view, Africa is also a “thing” not to be created but to be defined by the governmental jurisdictions (borders) set not by themselves but by the colonial powers in their bloody competition with each other. United only by their common oppression as the colonized.
Yeshitela first examines the orthodox Marxist understanding as best articulated by Joseph Stalin:
“Written at the end of 1912 or early in 1913, Stalin’s position, later published in pamphlet form, defined the nation’s key elements, which, according to Stalin, included a ‘historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.’”
As a practical guide for the Bolsheviks it worked well. After the revolution, they had to navigate the complexities of dealing with the various nations and nationalities enslaved by the Tsar’s Russian empire. Stalin’s bottom line then was that nations had an absolute right to self-determination. By self-determination, Stalin meant not the nation’s right to its language and cultural trappings, but quite specifically the right of actual secession. Thus the Russian empire became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Yeshitela, however, points out that today:
“Obviously the situation for Africans does not satisfy Stalin’s definition of the nation, whether applied to the artificially-created African territories carved out in Berlin in 1884-85 or to African people forcibly dispersed around the world.”
Those nations were so-defined for the convenience of the European powers which sought to “fairly” carve out their various spheres of influence for raping the entire African continent, then re-carved after WWI, and re-carved again after WWII.
Yeshitela then explains the theory of African Internationalism:
“[W]e can say without hesitation that the African nation does exist. It is one nation in need of consolidation, that is definable by objective and subjective characteristics. It is one nation, which like the European nation has features specific to its response to historical necessity. … that nations exist if only because it is an idea, which responds to Marx’s maxim that theory, when grasped by the masses becomes a material force.”
Thus the African nation is an activity “for-itself.” Not a commodity “in-itself.” Yeshitela’s bottom line:
“African Internationalism means black power to the African working class; it means elevation of the African working class to the position of ruling class.”
We (Africa) too have been naught, and we shall be all! Completing this act of creation of Africa for-itself is then the task of the African Socialist International.
The Original Sin.
Again, “We are not Marxists. We are historical materialists,” says Yeshitela, despite the fact that he holds the insights of Marx in great respect. (“Historical” distinguishes both Marx and Yeshitela from the schematic “dialectical” materialist.) Yeshitela then does some historical materialist analysis of Marx himself. Marx was also a European, Yeshitela notes, and Marx analyzed Kapital as a European, though Marx acknowledges:
“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation …”
In Marx’s analytical model, this fundamental point drops out of the picture. Marx brilliantly constructs a closed-system model of capitalist development, a model in which there are capitalists and workers, with workers fed into the system by the destruction of the feudal land-based system that tied slave-like serfs to their feudal lords. From there he was able to understand the self-destructive nature of capitalism and its creation of its own gravediggers, the working class. But capitalism is not a closed system. Marx’s revolutionary descendants take this worker/capitalist model as the material reality. So as capitalism grew, so the story grew, capitalism then sought empires in Africa, Asia and Latin America, in its lust for markets and resources.
The implication is that capitalism somehow developed on its own, and then acquired empire (the very title of Lenin’s “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism” echoes this). This is despite what Marx said earlier, that slavery, conquest and looting were absolutely necessary for the “rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.” That necessity has never ceased to be the case, and the African is still the “other,” whose enslavement was and is the foundation of whatever existence the Europeans may enjoy. The only graves the European working class dug were its own in unending world wars.
The orthodox, vulgar empiricist leftist might say, “Call it colonialist, call it imperialist, you’ve still got nation oppressing nation. What’s the damn difference?” Well, the damn difference is that such a view erases the significance of “how you got there,” i.e., it erases any differences between the subjectivity of the oppressed nation and the oppressor nation. Despite the fact that human subjectivity is the original starting point for Marx and in fact for any serious understanding of the world at all.
For the European (who, by the way, is still NOT making the revolution), you would make the revolution in the “mother country” and then clean up places like Africa afterwards.
From the perspective of the enslaved, the colonized, the African, colonialism was and is the direct and current mode of their oppression, and that dictates “what is to be done.” The fight to destroy colonialism is now, palpably a matter of life and death, and inescapable if there is to be any revolution at all. For both the European and the African. The African people are not going to be anybody’s afterthought.
Nation vs. People.
This understanding of nation is critical to the very way we understand Reparations. I mentioned towards the beginning how I mistook Yeshitela’s notion of “national suicide” …
“What it does mean is that whites would have to commit ‘national suicide,’ abandoning the interests of the European parasitic oppressor nation and uniting with the historical trajectory of the African nation to achieve ‘black power’ …”
… to mean “racial suicide.” In a similar way, colonial power rests on those of us in the white nation thinking of ourselves as a “people” (the second ideological pillar of the colonial system) propping up the first pillar (race). The American people this, the American people that, etc. The interlocked mindsets of people and race reduce us to our worst inclinations and rob us of the best within each of us.
One of the standard tenets of revolution and revolutionary movements — whether seeking revolution within a nation (as in Russia) or seeking liberation from an oppressor nation (Vietnam) — is to split the general population against its government, to divide the “people” and unleash forces that can join or support the revolution.
So the Bolsheviks agitated within an army (the “state”) weary from the slaughter in the trenches. Russian soldiers turned en masse against the war, shot their officers, left the trenches and marched to the rear. Tsarist generals cried, “Give me one good division! Give me one good battalion! I will put down this rabble!” But they had no good divisions, no good battalions, and the workers ruled the streets.
A key part of the political strategy of the Vietnamese — arrayed against the massed might of 550,000 American troops — was to support the U.S. anti-war movement, to make clear that the American people were not their enemy. Countless unacknowledged “cease fires” were arranged in the jungles by U.S. soldiers who only wanted to get home alive. Even as its bombers kept bombing, the mightiest army in the world was disintegrating into mutiny, drugs and demoralization.
As Che Guevara said, “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” Given the conflicted condition of white people as active oppressors and as oppressed, the situation requires both fierce hatred and what they used to call “tough love.” Very tough love.
The African Nation in the belly of the beast.
As shown above, the African nation is in the process of being created. It still has a long way to go
There have been historic struggles against colonialism in places like the Congo, Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa, etc. But even the most explicitly Pan-African attempts to create a world-historic African unity have taken place within the framework of desperately poor nation states still ensnared in the European world economy. Their revolutionary aspirations were crushed by a combination of corruption and outright imperial force.
Yeshitela explains in his “2017 Political Report: Putting Revolution Back on the Agenda”:
“This has meant that the work to build the ASI has fallen squarely on Party resources within the U.S., notwithstanding the splendid work done by Party members in other parts of the world.”
Thus St. Petersburg Florida’s Uhuru House holds the international headquarters of the African Socialist International.
But the African community within the U.S. faces very different conditions than those faced elsewhere in the world. Can it lead the anti-colonial movement worldwide? Certainly that development will be uneven. Per Yeshitela:
“The only meaningful precedent we have to learn from is that provided by the Universal Negro Improvement Association and Africa Communities League (UNIA) of the early 20th century. … Some are bewildered by the fact that Garvey was able to build such a mammoth organization of millions of Africans on virtually every continent on earth in the early 1900s, before modern methods of communications like the Internet were available.”
Garvey took Booker T. Washington’s emphasis on “Africans doing for Africans” and …
“revolutionized it with the demand that Africans capture black State power to serve their interests. Africa for Africans! Garvey’s attraction was that he called on Africans to assert themselves in becoming masters of their own fate and creating their own economy––with steamship lines and recording companies and factories, and so on.”
In 1920 the UNIA claimed at least four million members, with 25,000 people from all over the world attending a rally at Madison Square Garden to hear Garvey speak.
The UNIA was besieged on all sides, by the U.S. government, establishment black leaders, and the Communist Party USA, which saw it as competition for the allegiance of the black masses. Garvey was ultimately jailed and deported. But the potential Garvey demonstrated still remains.
Yeshitela notes the “advantages” of being located in the belly of the beast.
“In the U.S. we are not only advantageously located because of the high degree of technological development, but also because of the numbers, density and organized history of resistance of the domestically colonized African population. Moreover, the experiences and work of the Uhuru Movement and African People’s Socialist Party that go back more than 50 years provide an advantage that cannot be overstated.
“Within the U.S. we have had the benefit of the many years of work and experience we have acquired, the development of economic institutions and a differently developed psychology among Africans that has long been open to the idea of black power and self-determination as compared to our brothers and sisters in Europe.
“As a community, Africans in the U.S. have been less intoxicated by the notion of the ‘American Dream’ than Africans elsewhere. In his retort to the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X showed that Africans here have been living a nightmare.”
What the African People’s Socialist Party adds to the movement that Garvey started is a revolutionary politic and a revolutionary organization.
“Radical Times! Radical Solutions!”
It’s not just some cool slogan for rallies and such.
Indeed, the times are radical. Yeshitela outlines the cracks appearing within the European nation:
“The majority of the entire colonizer nation is in a state of economic, organizational and ideological disarray. This is one of the things made obvious by the presidential election of 2016.
“We know that there is a deep sense of foreboding within the colonizer nation. There is growing drug addiction and, for the first time in generations, if not ever, the death rate of white people is on the uptick. The electoral process has not succeeded in luring them into a sense of control over their future, which appears to be jeopardized by the new norm of economic decline, despite the U.S. government’s boast of full-employment.
“There is evidence that for the first time in recent history North Americans of the colonizer nation are confronted with the probability that their children will not be as well-off as they are according to a November 2016 report by the McKinsey Global Institute.
“The white sense of security that accompanied the belief that the U.S. had hegemony over the world’s affairs has been shattered by the defiance from forces as diverse as Venezuela, Iran, Democratic Republic of Korea, Russia, China, etc.
“The election also revealed that the majority of white people in the U.S. appear to be ideologically adrift. The bedrock of ideological coherence has been untethered from the foundation of previous assumptions of permanent affluence and unquestioned U.S. authority.”
The U.S. is fractured along class lines. White people have made a deal with the Devil, and the Devil’s bill has come due. As Yeshitela shows, however, there are opportunities for rendering the Devil’s contract null and void, even among some of the most backward people in the world.
U.S. leftists (petit-bourgeois to the core) might seize on this to call for a class approach, “black and white unite and fight!” against common oppression. But that formulation traditionally leads, to be specific, to calling for the leadership of the “aristocracy of labor,” i.e., the trade unions, that segment of the working class most thoroughly locked into its support of the white nation.
Therefore, in posing the class question, the questions to ask are, “Will the white working class support the leadership of the black working class?” and more specifically, “Can elements of the white working class be won to supporting Reparations for the black community?”
Those questions are what the radical campaigns of Jesse Nevel and Eritha Akilé Cainion (Now Anai) — running for St. Petersburg Mayor and District 6 City Council — posed to the city in the summer of 2017. In doing so, they re-defined St. Petersburg politics.
“We made the debate happen!”
The two Ricks.
Kriseman (D), the current mayor, had wrapped up the support of the so-called progressive community. This included the Bernie Sanders operatives who are desperately seeking to take over the Democratic Party by hewing to the party line, the same ones who came out by the dozens for Hillary Clinton during last year’s presidential debacle.
Kriseman’s opponent in the non-partisan race was Rick Baker, the former Republican mayor (“Box-Cutter Baker” who had set the police to slashing the tents of the homeless camped out in a city park in 2007).
The corporate powers wanted the public contest to be a gentrification-fest between good old boys with million-dollar war-chests.
Jesse and Akilé spoiled the party. In the candidate debates, Jesse and Akilé — with their followers out in force to cheer them on — re-defined the terms of the campaign. The League of Women Voters once tried to shut them up (see League of Women Voters Debate). Unsuccessfully. Black community leaders began coming up to publicly honor and embrace Yeshitela. The debate organizers dared not try to shut it down. The other black candidates for Council and mayor were forced to speak in terms of Jesse and Akilé’s agenda, i.e., gentrification, economic development and police brutality. The headlines of the Tampa Bay Times screeched about “fisticuffs” and “St. Pete mayoral debate marred by Uhuru protest.” They lied that the Uhurus had prevented there being a debate. The campaign’s response, “We are what made a debate actually happen.” They had to be silenced.
Jesse and Akilé were excluded from the only televised debate on July 25. When it came time to hand out tickets, the Tampa Bay Times and Bay 9 News announced that there were suddenly NO tickets, and the hundreds of people lined up outside the Palladium Theater were sent home. The sponsors decided that the audience would be “invitation-only,” to supporters of Rick Kriseman and Rick Baker. On the big night, the TV cameras could only pan over the nearly 700 empty seats in the hall, while Kriseman and Baker droned on.
Fight for 15, bless their radical souls, canceled their own August debate. So did the one-time progressive Creative Loafing community newspaper. There would be no debates between then and the August 29 primary. The media began uniformly blacking Jesse and Akilé out of coverage. The gentrifiers won both primaries by large but suspicious margins, with Baker and Kriseman facing a runoff in November’s general election.
The last debate for the general election between Kriseman and Baker, according to the Tampa Bay Times, “took place in front of several dozen people.”
What they couldn’t silence was the Uhuru campaign’s door-to-door precinct operation, the nightly phone-banking, and the hundreds of yard signs that kept getting torn down by the Baker Boys and getting put back up by the community day-after-day.
The Radical Solution is Reparations.
The campaign for Reparations continues. There is a new organization in town, Communities United for Reparations and Economic Development (CURED), a multi-racial organization, consolidating the precinct work both on the South Side and in the working-class white communities and fighting for the issues the campaign had raised. It is the people’s answer to the headline in the August 6 Tampa Bay Times, “$200 million later, why are St. Pete’s poor black neighborhoods worse off?”
Its goals include:
- Concrete development projects for Reparations at the expense of the Corporations and the System.
- Put a stop to gentrification.
- Black Community control of education.
- Black Community control of the police.
- End the rigged system that requires City Council reps to be “chosen” by a city-wide vote.
- Tear down the “Dome,” built on the bulldozed homes of the South Side.
A founding convention will be held in February.
Beyond St. Petersburg.
The Jesse and Akilé campaign will become a model for the country. St. Pete’s South Side, in one form or another, exists in every city in the nation.
At a South Side Town Hall meeting last summer, Akilé was asked whether their campaign could serve as a model for every American city where devastation of the black community is the order of the day. She explained:
“We have South Sides all around the country, where there are the same economic foundations, the same social system as St. Pete. You will find Africans in poverty everywhere, because this entire world economy rests on the enslavement of the African people. So yes, St. Pete is the model for candidates running from poor, working class black communities on a platform of Reparations. This majority-white city is going to lead this country and the entire world into the future. This is why we say our campaigns are so historic. This time is the best time, because in too few years, under an administration of gentrification, of police violence, of homelessness, of poverty, of progress at the expense of the black community there won’t be a black community in the city of St. Pete, there won’t be a black community in St. Louis, there won’t be a black community anywhere in this country.
“Right now we’re building a people’s movement. This ensures that whatever happens on Election Day, the people will win. Not just getting elected, but transforming this whole process. The people have been awakened by this campaign. City government can’t operate like it used to. With all the money they have, all the power they have, they can’t defeat us. They don’t have the people that we do. They have to pay their volunteers because they don’t believe in what they’re saying. We don’t have to. Our passion comes from conviction, from the truth, and the desire for revolution around the world.
“The battle of St. Pete back in 1996 was the dress rehearsal. This is the real deal. The strategy from the beginning has been to build a people’s movement, to bring the people to power. That’s why we are confident. That’s how the people are going to win.”
— Jeff Roby
October 22, 2017